Effects of Leading Cause of New Cases of Blindness in Those Ages 20-74 Lessened by Promising New Treatment

CHICAGO (Oct. 27, 2010) – More than 27 million adults and children in the United States have some form of diabetes.  And, more than 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.  With the numbers of diabetes patients continuing to increase, the number of those at-risk for vision loss and blindness due to diabetic retinopathy and other related eye diseases will continue to soar.

Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age. Diabetic retinopathy weakens the small blood vessels in the retina. Retinal blood vessels can break down, leak, or become blocked – affecting and impairing vision over time. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, damage to the eye can occur when abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.  Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for diabetic retinopathy.

However, results of the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) Eye Study, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), show promising results in slowing the advancement of diabetic retinopathy and its effect on vision.  The study examined adults who had Type 2 diabetes for an average of 10 years and were evaluated after different types of treatments of control of blood sugar, lipids and blood pressure.  Intensive blood sugar control, compared with standard blood sugar control, decreased the progression of diabetic retinopathy by about one-third, from 10.4 percent to 7.3 percent, over four years.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), the ACCORD Study also found that a combination lipid therapy with fenofibrate plus simvastatin also reduced disease progression by about one-third, from 10.2 percent to 6.5 percent, over four years.

“The results of this new study are promising.  We hope that research and treatment options will continue to advance so that someday, we can put an end to vision loss and blindness due to diabetes,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America.  “In the meantime, we strongly encourage anyone with diabetes to help protect their vision by getting a dilated eye exam every year by an experienced eye care professional.”

Many people may have diabetic retinopathy and not know it.  Once a patient notices symptoms, vision loss has already occurred.  Some symptoms may include:

  • Blurry or clouded vision
  • Floaters or dark spots in vision
  • Straight lines that do not appear straight (such as flag poles, street lights, etc.)
  • Difficulty seeing in dim light
  • Tunnel vision

Individuals age 65 or older with diabetes, may visit EyeCare America’s online referral center at eyecareamerica.org to see if they qualify for an eye exam and care through the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeCare America program. Those eligible may receive a comprehensive eye exam and up to one year of medical eye care for any disease diagnosed during the initial exam.

For additional information on financial assistance and vision care resources, or diabetic eye disease, please call Prevent Blindness America at (800) 331-2020 or visit preventblindness.org/diabetes.


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